Te Puna Quarry Park

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Old quarry equipment and a bench hidden among the greenery in Te Puna Quarry Park

People extol the virtues of New Zealand’s natural beauty, but landscaped local parks also flourish in the country’s perfect mild climate. And while there are enough local parks in New Zealand to fill a lifetime and we visited more than a dozen in our two weeks, Te Puna Quarry Park was by far the most beautiful and quirky. Situated just outside of Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty, it’s the perfect stop between visiting the region’s wineries/cideries, buying fresh fruit from roadside stands, and noshing on some of the best meat pies in the country (more on that one in a later post).

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“The Dreaming Stone”, a sculpture on display in the park. A full list of the park’s sculptures (many by local sculptors) is available here.

Te Puna was our favorite local park because it had something for everyone: a dizzying array of botanical life from cacti to orchids, beautiful granite sculptures hidden in the greenery, a butterfly hatchery for the scientifically inclined, and old rusted quarry equipment kids (or kids at heart) can play on. It’s the perfect combination of see, smell, touch, and do. And everywhere you can see signs of how much the park is loved and cared for, from the painstakingly-weeded walkways to the densely-packed park regions full of bromeliads, irises, and palms.

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Wooden totems hidden among the ferns

A visit to the park can take as little as 45 minutes and stretch into the hours (we were there for two). It’s also free to visit and cared for entirely by volunteers, so if you’ve got some coins to spare, consider dropping by one of the donation boxes. There are some by the restrooms in the parking lot, where you can also pick up a free map. If you’re staying or living nearby long term and end up loving the place, also consider volunteering to help keep the park beautiful. As usual, here are our most gorgeous photos of Te Puna below:

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Chamomile flowers bloom in the park’s herb garden.
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A touch of surreal: A worm sculpture in an old tree.
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A blooming dahlia flower. This variant of dahlia is apparently fairly rare.
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An Aztec-style jaguar sculture blends in with quarry stone and bromeliads.
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Little friend: a leafhopper hides behind a leaf. This is probably one of the introduced leafhoppers, Scolypopa australis.
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A sculpture rests among bushes
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Bees gather at flower to collect nectar.
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A blooming white lily
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A cluster of tiny white orchids, probably a variant or relative of Epidendrum secundum, which we saw growing in the wild on our Salkantay hike in Peru.
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A young milkweed pod. The park propagates large swathes of milkweed to feed monarch caterpillars, and will even collect unwanted caterpillars from nearby gardens.
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Young royalty: a small monarch caterpillar on a milkweed pod.
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Husks and cocoons of monarch butterflies in the park’s butterfly hatchery.
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Adults at play: the park features old quarry equipment that you can play on, although there are warning signs to take care and be safe.
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The rusted insides of the beast, complete with gears
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Springs and plugs in the old quarry equipment, long since rusted beyond use
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Rust up close, where the uniform reddish-brown becomes individual speckles of yellow, orange, red, and black.

Arequipa: a photoessay

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Sculptures at the city hall museum

After Cusco, Arequipa is an entirely different world. Situated in a vast, dusty plain, the city is warm and dry. So are the people: friendly, but infinitely practical in their interactions with us. There are no tourists, and the only assumption that comes with our foreign-ness is that we have no idea how to do anything around here. It starts as soon as we leave the bus terminal and board a city bus, a tiny van re-outfitted to seat twenty on slowly degrading sofas. We ask for the Plaza del Armas, and they nod. When our stop comes, they simply smile and motion at us to get off.

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A slow morning: people wander and wait for buses at the stop where disembarked

The same thing happens when we get off and look for a hostel, for a restaurant, for anything. The people we ask either apologize that they don’t know, or smile and point us in the right direction. No bubbling excitement, no sleight of hand, no staring at us. The Arequipeno personality is almost like an infinitely cool, seen-it-all attitude. And yet, they pull that coolness off without coming across as unfriendly.

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Everything is calm, even in the emergency store. Buy your fire extinguishers today in all sizes.
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Even this stray dog that approached us is cool. She waited patiently for us to offer her food, then ate it slowly.

The city itself alternates between intensely polished and raw. The Plaza de Armas is a wide, open square with places to sit and rest. Pedestrian-only walkways lead off of it to gleaming coffee shops, stores, and shopping malls. But travel over the bridge to the neighborhoods in the west and things get rougher. The smaller streets are unpaved dirt and the fine dust covers everything. Every tenth building appears under construction or renovation.

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Infinitely practical: old newspapers protect bars from damage at a construction site.

Though there are many stores, there are more restaurants and bakeries than anything else. In many places, we can’t walk more than a block without encountering one of each. They’re a tribute to the Ariquipeno love of food and cuisine.

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One of a dozen bakeries that we visited. If pastry is your thing, then Arequipa is your place.

In this world of food, adored above all is the picantería. A distinctly local phenomenon, they evolved from little grandma-run stands selling a local fermented corn drink, chicha. The story runs that to sell more chicha, grandma started selling spicy food as well, and the picantería was born.

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Inside La Capitania, one of the city’s most popular picanterías.

These restaurants are practical and unpretentious. We walk into one and we’re offered a seat at long, low picnic benches beside several other lunching families. We scan the menu and find nothing familiar. We ask for some dishes, and the waitress tells us “no, you probably want these,” in a matter-of-fact voice. “Okay, we agree.” She disappears and returns ten minutes later with four delicious-looking, heavily-laden plates. There’s rich meat stew, a cheesy squash casserole, a sweet baked cheese and pasta, and a cold cheese and vegetable salad. We wash it down with a glass of chicha.

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Our meal at La Capitania

Arequipa also loves sculpture, and the city hall serves not only as a place of business but also as an art gallery. The open square inside the building exhibits sculptures of cherubic children slaying different dangerous animals, from wolves to snakes. Then there’s a room dedicated to the history and culture of Arequipa on the second floor of the building, where we find dozens of sculptures in metal, wood, and sillar, a chalky-white volcanic rock found in abundance here. The city hosts a competition every year where artists compete to carve the most ornate sculptures.

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A sillar sculpture at the city hall museum

As dusk falls, the city comes alive with people rushing to get home. There’s the usual vehicle traffic jams and people spilling onto the sidewalks, waving down buses, rushing for the crosswalk. But there’s surprisingly little honking or shouting.

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A family flags down a bus during rush hour

With nowhere to be in particular, we take our time walking along the street and encounter a mouse. It’s seemingly unafraid of us, and makes attempts to climb Stoytcho’s shoe and pant leg before we break off a piece of our bread for it.

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A mouse on the street, seemingly unafraid of us, eats a piece of bread.

After an ill-fated visit to a park (many are closed on weekdays because people don’t use them), we wander back to the Plaza de Armas. In the darkness of night, the bright-white sillar spires of Arequipa’s cathedral glow against the sky. The Plaza hums softly with couples talking, friends laughing, and families out for an evening stroll. “Come, stay a while.” says the humming noise, “Enjoy life.”

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The cathedral at Plaza de Armas at night